MESA, Ariz. -- A's fireballer Frankie Montas, who appeared in 23 games out of the bullpen last year, will continue to refine his elite stuff as a starter this spring.Oakland manager Bob Melvin said the decision to stretch out Montas to start partly stemmed from the club's desire for more
MESA, Ariz. -- A's fireballer Frankie Montas, who appeared in 23 games out of the bullpen last year, will continue to refine his elite stuff as a starter this spring.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin said the decision to stretch out Montas to start partly stemmed from the club's desire for more rotation depth; there's already an abundance of it in the bullpen.
"We still feel like Frankie has a lot of upside," Melvin said. "We'll see where the innings are, but coming out of our meetings [Tuesday], Frankie was a guy we wanted to get back into a starter's role."
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The spring schedule will allow for only so many innings for Montas while a slew of other starters clash in a battle for three open rotation spots, so it seems almost certain he'll begin the season at Triple-A Nashville. That's where he found work as a starter last year, following a bumpy ride in the big leagues.
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Montas spent the first two months of last season with the A's and compiled a 7.03 ERA overall. He racked up 36 strikeouts in 32 innings, but his other numbers were alarming: He walked 20 batters and gave up 10 homers. His command couldn't catch up with his stuff -- which features a 100 mph fastball.
Along the way, though, he soaked up knowledge from a group of veteran relievers that included Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, John Axford and Santiago Casilla.
"I learned a lot being around those guys in the bullpen," said Montas, who will turn 25 in March. "I was struggling, but I learned a lot. I was behind in the count a lot, and my fastball command wasn't as good as it was in Spring Training, and this year that's my goal, to establish my fastball for a strike every time. It all starts with my fastball."
Montas made strides in his final few starts with Nashville, building up to four innings in five consecutive starts and striking out 20 next to just three walks, before an oblique injury prematurely ended his season in August.
For Montas to succeed as a starter, polishing his secondary pitches will be just as important as honing his command. He's also down in weight and is feeling more energized than ever, shedding 10 pounds this winter.
"He certainly has the stuff to be a high-end starter," Melvin said. "I think it was just an up-and-down year for him. He had some failures that he hasn't had to experience before. He had some injuries. But it hasn't affected the way we feel about him."
Right-hander Nolan Blackwood, a 14th-round Draft pick of the A's in 2016, jumped out among a group of nearly 20 pitchers who threw bullpen sessions during the club's first workout Wednesday, Melvin said.
"He had a really good year last year, and I know guys in development have been talking about him," Melvin said. "A lot of people in his corner in this camp, so it'll be good to see him in games."
Blackwood, a sidearmer, pitched exclusively at Class A Advanced Stockton in his first full professional season, compiling a 3.00 ERA in 44 games.
He's among 59 players invited to big league camp with the A's this year, down from 70 last year -- which will provide for more opportunity all around.
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.